Great Decisions, great discussion

Program brings community members together to talk about global issues.


It only takes a brief look at any of today’s news headlines to prompt discussion. World topics such as the trends of social media, the success and failures of globalization, and a president being sued by a porn star all make great fodder for conversation, but aside from a friend or the local barista, where can someone discuss what’s going on in the world?

Each spring, a small collective of Island locals and visitors meet in the basement of the Vineyard Haven public library to discuss such topics.

The meetings are part of Great Decisions, a discussion program focused on foreign affairs in which groups across the country meet each year to discuss eight topics chosen by an expert panel from the Foreign Policy Association.

The program model consists of reading chapters about issues facing America from the Great Decisions briefing book, meeting up with a group, watching a DVD, and discussing that week’s issue. Since the talks concern current events, the books are often supplemented with additional material that is added to keep topics up to date.

The Island’s Great Decisions group, organized by library adult program coordinator Betty Burton, meets once a week each week around April and May. This week’s topic was titled “Turkey: A partner in crisis,” and had group members talk about the history and current events of that country.

This week’s discussion was led by Claudio Dechiara. Dechiara has lived and worked in Turkey, teaching international relations at a university. Speaking from personal experience, Dechiara was able to field many of the questions from group members.

“I’ve always been interested in politics, and this is an opportunity to discuss politics with people who are quite knowledgeable,” Julia Burgess, a group member said.

The talks also shuffle between moderators. Last week, group member Dennis Agin filled in as moderator for a fellow member who couldn’t attend. “The moderator part is not so bad, it’s the material that’s the tough part,” he said with a laugh.

“Dennis is good because he keeps an eye out that everybody gets to participate,” Stephanie Elliott, another group member, said.

The talks don’t consist of just politics. They range through variegated topics, such as South Africa’s democratic system to the modern media.

The eight discussions compiled by the program are short, but informative chapters in the book that give the members a detailed background on the topics. This combined with members’ ideas and opinions fosters a supportive and open discussion seminar. The group strikes a perfect balance between dense discussion and witty jokes, keeping the talks fun and engaging.

Burton and other group members stressed the talks were open to anyone who is interested in talking about international affairs with a group of genial people. Members are encouraged to talk and ask questions, but sitting and listening is always welcomed.

“We’re not very esoteric. Anybody who showed up, I think, would have a good time if they had an interest of any sort in international affairs, and we could use some new people,” Elliott said.


The Great Decisions discussion group meets each Thursday from 7 to 9 pm in the program room of the Vineyard Haven library. To sign up or to get more information, contact Betty Burton at